Branislav Ivanovic Needs The Chelsea Axe

Bran-Ivan

First off let me say that I have been a big fan of Branislav Ivanovic for a few years now.

Last season I even made an argument for the Serb being one of Chelsea’s best ever signings.

Ivanovic has been a warrior at right-back for the Blues.

Last term Jose Mourinho praised the defender on various occasions. He described his right-back by calling him:

“A competitive animal, a big heart,”

Towards the end of last season the Portuguese coach would go as far as to say that, like me, he thought Ivanovic was one of his club’s best signings.

But this campaign has been a nightmare for the Serbian international so far.

First off, Swansea City’s Jefferson Montero gave Ivanovic a roasting at Stamford Bridge with his red hot pace. The thirty-one year old was lucky to see the Ecuadorian winger’s backside as the Swansea man continually left Branislav flat footed.

In the big Premier League clash between champions Chelsea and last season’s runners up Manchester City, new £49m City man Raheem Sterling would also give Ivanovic a torrid time! Like a lot of his teammates, Branislav just didn’t have anyway of stopping a dominant Man City.

Then last weekend, Mourinho would watch on as his side lost for only their second time at home in the league. This time it was Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie who would show up Ivanovic. Again the defender just couldn’t find a yard of pace or stop his opponent from constantly beating him to the punch.

It hasn’t just been a disaster start to the season for Chelsea’s number two, the whole team have crumbled under the pressure of being champs.

This has lead Mourinho to come out and publicly criticise his pool of players, with Ivanovic thought to be one of the main culprits.

Maybe the defender is fretting about his contract or just had an off month. But what’s for sure is that Ivanovic has now become a liability and can no longer be carried in the starting eleven.

Jose needs to give the previously heroic and reliable right-back a rest, as he’s void of any confidence and doesn’t seem to be able to play through this current slump.

So that should mean that Cesar Azpilicueta moves to his preferred spot as the right-sided full-back and new signing Baba Rahman would then come in at left-back. Alternatively Kurt Zouma filled in on the left during preseason and could do that again if Mourinho wishes.

Then after a few weeks on the sidelines, we could see a hungry and reinvigorated Branislav Ivanovic back in the fold once again with his warrior like qualities.

Remember form can be temporary but class is permanent. Hopefully the Serbian international can prove that to be the case after a rest.

Mark Warburton’s Rangers Revolution Has Gers Fans Bouncing!

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When discussing Rangers, Hibernian boss Alan Stubbs stated earlier this month:

“It’s very easy when you’ve got money to spend to bring in much better players than what was there at the start.”

Gers manager Mark Warburton responded by telling the Hibees coach to ‘concentrate’ on his own club and not worry about Rangers.

The fact is that Stubbs made a cheeky jibe, that was designed to pile pressure onto his rivals.

The comment isn’t entirely accurate as Rangers were woeful last season, yet spent more than Hearts or Hibs who both finished ahead of the Ibrox club last term.

Rangers are certainly on the up at the moment and have started the campaign with a bang.

The light blues have won all four of their league encounters so far. They’ve also progressed in the League Cup and the Challenge Cup.

As August nears it’s end, the Gers have played eight times so far this season. They have won all eight fixtures, scoring a whopping thirty goals and conceding just five!

Those victories included wins over teams thought to be their closest league challengers; Hibs (twice), St Mirren and Queen of the South on Sunday.

The teams vibrancy and fluid passing style has been extremely exciting to watch. The Rangers faithful seem to have fallen in love with their new boss and his footballing philosophies.

As far back as 2012, when Rangers found themselves competing in Scotland’s bottom tier, supporters of the Ibrox club have been calling for an overhaul in terms of player recruitment and putting more faith in the clubs youth players.

But their calls fell on deaf ears. Club legend Ally McCoist seemed void of any creative inspiration when it came to tactics and managing the transfer market. Coisty would use boring, turgid formations and bring in a bunch of old Gers players who were past their best.

Although Ally also had to deal with constant boardroom dramas created by previous board regimes.

When McCoist was relieved of his duties earlier in the year, I said that the best thing for Rangers to do was to hire a new boss who didn’t have a Govan connection himself. The role needed a fresh approach.

Warburton has given Rangers a new system, philosophy and even a new lease of life.

When going forward the Gers side are very quick and simply cut opposing defences apart with their high tempo and quick passing play.

The full-backs have been superb and work well with their wingers as they overlap and make a lot of interchanges.

Players like Andy Halliday, Jason Holt, Nicky Law and Arsenal loanee Gedion Zelalem are all adept at keeping the ball and finding a defence splitting pass that assists the forward players.

Striker Martyn Waghorn looks to be a player who can be a great focal point for this side. The former England under-21 hitman has already bagged six goals in eight appearances this campaign.

I think central defensive duo Rob Kiernan and Danny Wilson are still trying to form an understanding but I’d imagine that will come with more games.

Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham needs more time to get used to his new role. Obviously not scared to receive the ball at his feet and he’s a decent shot-stopper but the English keeper needs to understand that higher concentration levels are a must for any goalie at Ibrox. Goalkeepers can go through the majority of games without doing much at an Old Firm side but then suddenly get called into action. That process will be fairly new for Wes and he’ll have to get used to it. Once he does that, he will see the Gers support less nervy about his performances in between the sticks.

Warburton has promoted the youth players, who have came up through the clubs academy. Barrie McKay, Ryan Hardie, Fraser Aird and Tom Walsh have all been used so far this term.

Wide-man McKay has been the success story as he’s been an ever present this season and also helped his teams cause with two goals. Not bad for a player, who spent last season out on loan at Raith Rovers.

Mark Warburton has had great success in the loan market this transfer window. Dominic Ball and Nathan Oduwa have come up from Tottenham Hotspur and Zelalem from the Gunners.

Maverick winger Oduwa has been a bit of a sensation what with his tricks and his showboating. But he has been used effectively so far in the league, coming off the bench and attacking at tiring defenders. His quick feet and tricks get him beyond his markers and draws in fouls, great when you have James Tavernier standing over your freekicks.

Getting back to Alan Stubbs comments, regarding it being an easy job at Rangers because of the money available at Ibrox. That does his Gers counterpart Mark Warburton nothing but a disservice.

I’d argue that the Rangers manager’s contacts have given the Gers the x-factor this summer not their cash reserves.

Warburton has brought in hungry, young players who relish the chance to impress 50,000 home fans at Ibrox. He has also persuaded English Premier League managers to loan him some of their talented youngsters. That is due to reputation, not money.

The Gers gaffer has also rejuvenated Rangers with a team that press and punish their opponents with silky passing, continous running and by scoring plenty of goals. All done with a young, improving squad!

Now the Scottish footballing public can’t sit back and just discuss the present, they also need to debate the future.

Could Rangers challenge Celtic next season? Well another great trait from Warburton is that he won’t allow his attention to be distracted by such talk.

What is for certain is that Rangers fans can once again enjoy going out at the weekend and watch their team play and excite them. While the players can also take heart that they can once again applaud their own fans without feeling embarrassed.

Can Kevin Volland Solve Manchester United’s Attacking Problems?

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As the transfer window fast approaches deadline day, Manchester United still need to find another forward to enhance their squad.

But with little time to deal with, the chances of United securing a transfer involving one of their long-time established targets seem to have diminished.

I really cannot see PSG or Bayern Munich sanctioning sales involving Edinson Cavani or Thomas Muller!

Depending on which paper you read Javier Hernandez has been told he can leave the club or the board have rejected a bid from Tottenham for the striker. I’d think it would be folly to let Chicharito go without two forward replacements coming in!

So if Louis van Gaal can produce a rabbit out of the hat, you’d imagine that it will involve a player who hasn’t really been talked about regarding a move to Man United this summer.

German international Kevin Volland could fit the bill.

The Hoffenheim attacker has just turned twenty-three and that is an age that will appeal to Van Gaal, as it means he can be influenced and won’t be set in his ways. The Dutch manager likes players who can learn from him. The fact United have a ready made role model in German team captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is another bonus.

Versatile Volland would enhance the United first team as he’s a player who can play on the right wing but likes to cut onto his preferred left foot. United’s new signing Memphis Depay operates in a similar fashion on the left flank. Although the Old Trafford faithful would prefer seeing conventional wingers offering plenty of width, it seems coach Van Gaal is more keen on using inverted wingers. The Dutchman also still seems unconvinced by Belgian wide-man Adnan Januzaj and his ability to play well consistently for the team.

Volland has great talents, he wouldn’t be anywhere near the German national team if he wasn’t a bit special. The young forward has been called up for his nation’s latest pool of players who’ll take on Poland and Scotland in September’s Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Volland also captained the German under-21 side as they reached the semi-final stage at this summers 2015 European under-21 Championships. Kevin ended the competition with the Silver Boot award and he also made it into the team of the tournament.

The player has undoubted talent and can play through the middle if Wayne Rooney is missing but he’s still quite raw and he’s not the tallest. He’s improving as he continues to develop but would still need to add more goals and assists to his game. Although twenty-six Bundesliga goals in 101 appearances isn’t bad for a young player often played on the right wing.

Kevin Volland would add balance to the Manchester United side, but the Red Devil fans would still like to see a natural number nine to come in and challenge captain Rooney for the main strikers role.

Plus United’s chief executive would need to convince Hoffenheim’s hierarchy to sell their influential. Not an easy task for Ed Woodward as they’ve already received around £30m from Liverpool for Roberto Firmino this summer.

I get the feeling that time is running out for Man United and they will find themselves to short in forward areas to seriously challenge for top honours this term!

Have Manchester City Got Enough Firepower For The Title?

City Front Door

It seems like nothing can go wrong for Manchester City at the moment. Although I am sure they’d have preferred an easier group in the Champions League!

After four fixtures, the Citizens are the only English Premier League side who have a 100% win record. Today they beat Watford 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium. At the same time, last seasons champions Chelsea were falling to a 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace.

Those results now mean that their is eight points separating City and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side. It also means that Palace are City’s closest rivals in the league table.

Last term Man City were let down by key players Yaya Toure and club captain Vincent Kompany. But both have come back and started this campaign with a bang!

New signing Raheem Sterling has started his City career with style and manager Manuel Pellegrini has strengthened his defence, plus Eliaquim Mangala now looks like he’s a world beater.

So far in those four league games Manchester City have scored ten and impressively have yet to concede this season.

The squad could soon be bolstered with the club’s hierarchy close to sealing a £50m move for Wolfsburg’s Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian is supposedly having a medical with the Citizens this weekend.

The attacking midfielder will be another good signing and will add even more threat going forward.

But do Manchester City have enough cover for the strikers position to sustain this challenge?

It seems like a ridiculous question at the moment.

But look at the senior squad, they only have Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony as recognised strikers.

Today, against Watford, Bony wasn’t fit enough to make the bench due to a gashed leg. Pellegrini has suggested that the injury isn’t bad and the Ivorian hitman will be out for just ten days. But without the powerful forward, City had to promote youngster Kelechi Iheanacho onto the bench. The eighteen year old made his Premier League debut today but I wouldn’t think he’ll be ready for a full-time role in the first team this season.

Sergio Aguero will always bang in goals when fully fit but in each of his seasons at the Etihad the Argentine has picked up knocks and missed weeks at a time.

If either Bony or Aguero suffer from a serious injury this term then that could put extreme pressure on the only fit senior out and out forward in the squad.

Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if both went missing at the same period of the season!

Now Sterling could move up top if needed, but again could he fire in enough goals if he’s there for a prolonged spell? That is debatable.

Maybe De Bruyne could come in as a false nine but you wouldn’t want your season depending on that tactical move in the long run. It’s a solution for the odd game or two but not much beyond that.

This summer, City sold off Alvaro Negredo. The club have also loaned out Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic to Serie A sides this transfer window. For me, I’d have got rid one or the other but not both unless another striker was coming in.

Looking at it, I would be tempted to bring in yet another full time forward. Maybe take a punt QPR’s Charlie Austin?

I know it has been a terrific start to Manchester City’s season but it can often be a disadvantage to overlook all the possibilities just because everything is going well at the start of a campaign.

But I’d still much rather Manuel Pellegrini’s problems at the moment compared to those of any of his rivals!

Celtic’s Ronny Deila Needs To Stop With The Excuses!

Celtic Park

It’s not easy being the manager of Celtic, especially when you need to face the media after a premature Champions League exit.

But I cannot help but feel the less that Ronny Deila says about the Malmo defeat the better for the Norwegian boss.

So far we’ve heard that his Celtic team were ‘scared’, that they wanted it too much and that the players wanted to protect their lead rather than go out and attack to enhance that lead!

We have heard it all this week to be honest and it’s getting a bit tiring.

It’s quite simple, over the two legs Celtic fluffed their lines and didn’t deserve to go through.

Today Ronny Deila also declared that he hoped that smarter fans/press wouldn’t be “judging only on results”.

Ronny this is Scottish football, where you get judged on absolutely everything!

At the moment, if you’re the Celtic boss your yardstick isn’t winning domestic competitions. The main focus on a season is all about qualifying for the Champions League group stages. That’s where the prestige is, and more importantly that is where the big money is!

Celtic have an extremely passionate support but they can’t see any reason why they cannot beat the likes of Maribor or Malmo in the final Champions League qualifiers.

They’ll enjoy decent league wins and cup victories but those results are expected and don’t give the fans the same enjoyment or excitement as a big midweek night in Europe does.

If Rangers get promoted next season, then the scrutiny over results will just intensify for Deila.

In his press conference today, Ronny went on to say this:

“This club is one of the best-driven clubs in the world. We’re developing young players, we’re taking in players and developing them and selling them for a lot of money and we win so many titles in Scotland.”

Yes they do win a lot of titles in Scotland, but it’s not exactly the fairest of races. That’s not Celtic’s problem but the achievement isn’t exactly a huge one. Even a domestic treble wouldn’t get a huge amount of fanfare unless they do it by playing an exciting brand of attacking football.

To be honest, much like Murray Park, Celtic’s training complex doesn’t bring through enough good young players that can step into the first team. It does bring up youngsters that benefit other Scottish sides, but is that it’s main purpose? I doubt it!

We then look at Deila’s comment about selling on players for ‘a lot of money’. The Hoops boss should be admired for his honesty but that comment won’t go down well with a certain section of Celtic’s supporters. These fans hate the fact that their club is a selling club and they also think that chief executive Peter Lawwell thinks more about balancing the books than he does about the squad competing at it’s best.

Celtic have a tremendous scouting network but they can also buy a dud. There can only be so many times that they bail out the club by finding a cheap gem of a player who can be sold for a big fee after an early Champions League exit.

Lawwell and his board need to come to the conclusion that the best way to get back into the Champions League group stages is by speculating slightly more than they have done in recent seasons. Before anyone says it, I am not suggesting that they do a Sir David Murray and spend a reckless amount of cash!!

Just a few more million on a striker with more European pedigree.

So to an extent I feel for Ronny Deila. I don’t think his board helped him enough in their search for Champions League qualification.

But now isn’t the time to reflect and blame everything and anything on defeat. Ronny should draw a line under the Malmo result and get his players ready for what’s definitely going to be a tough run in the Europa League.

Criticism comes with the Celtic job, it’s all about how you deal with it and react to the negatives. For me, at the moment Ronny Deila hasn’t done enough this week but he’ll have a chance to prove himself once again against Ajax, Fenerbahce and Molde in the Europa League! 

Man Utd Still Need New Striking Star… But Options Are Running Out!

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I had no doubts that Wayne Rooney would get back on the goalscoring trail for Manchester United. The forward is still only twenty-nine years old, so he’s definitely not over the hill.

So seeing the English striker firing in a hattrick against Club Brugge and helping his side through to the group stages of the Champions League wasn’t much of a surprise.

Yet those three goals don’t change the fact that United still need at least one more forward in their squad who can help with the goalscoring duties.

But the fact is that their chances of finding a ready-made quality attacker this summer and signing him are fast diminishing.

Possible new recruits; Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala, Christian Benteke, Carlos Bacca and Jackson Martinez have all found new employers already this transfer window.

Spanish forward Pedro was seemingly the main target for the Red Devils but the former Barcelona man then turned up at Chelsea instead and has since made his impact with the Premier League champions.

With only five days remaining can United really make that marquee signing now?

Well it’s looking increasingly unlikely.

Two realistic signing targets could have been Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette but both pacey hit-men have recently agreed new deals with their current clubs. So I seriously doubt either will leave for United this summer.

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has laughed off rumours suggesting he’ll soon be leaving Spain’s capital for England, so that one doesn’t look likely either.

Two long term targets for Man United have been Thomas Muller and Edinson Cavani. But a deal involving one of these pair doesn’t seem to be imminent. Can you really see Bayern Munich or PSG selling one of their top squad players this late in the window? Nah I don’t think so!

Louis van Gaal has allowed Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria and Robin van Persie to depart Old Trafford this season. To be fair to the United boss they offered very little last term. So I wouldn’t have sold all three until at least one replacement was found and signed.

This campaign is going to be different as they are expected to challenge for the league title this term and they are also back in the Champions League this year.

So that means the squad needs to be stronger and better this season, yet they still look a bit threadbare in the forward positions.

A bad injury for Rooney would be a nightmare scenario for Man Utd. His main back-up for the number nine position would be Javier Hernandez but the Mexican forward spent last season on loan at Real after falling down the pecking order under Van Gaal. Then there’s James Wilson, a talented young English striker but one who needs more game time and I doubt he’ll get that at Old Trafford. Wilson would be better off going out on loan for a season to be honest.

New Dutch signing Memphis Depay could step in from the wings and play through the middle, if needed. I think that could be his final position one day, but I doubt Van Gaal wants to see him there in a full time role duing his debut season in England.

Also is Wayne Rooney at his best when he’s deployed as the main striker?

I’m not fully convinced. Wayne and the United team seem to prosper more when he’s been in a starting eleven with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Van Persie in it helping with their instincts for goals and allowing Rooney to play off them as a second striker.

It really seems that Louis van Gaal and his board have hummed and hawed this summer and that has seen them with a squad that isn’t fully formed.

Can they challenge for top honours come May 2016? Only time will tell but without another forward in their pool they’ll make things a lot harder for themselves!

Everton Should Now Accept Defeat In John Stones Saga And Sell Him To Chelsea For £40m

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Sometimes we reach a tipping point during a transfer saga and it then seems inevitable that the deal will go ahead.

Whether Everton like it or not, I think we’ve reached that stage in the long running John Stones to Chelsea story.

The player himself seems set on moving to the Barclays Premier League champions, with the young versatile defender handing in a transfer request this week.

That move from the England international puts the club in a tricky spot. They obviously don’t want to be seen as a selling club and want to keep talented young stars like Stones, but can they really reject a huge transfer fee for a player who has now put it on the record that he wants out of Goodison?

We’ve seen at Manchester United and at West Bromwich Albion with David de Gea and Saido Berahino, that the players heads get turned and that they are then not in the right frame of mind to play on for their current employers, when interest arrives from other sides.

Now Everton could hold Stones to his contract, he has four years remaining on that deal after all, but will he play with the same attitude or commitment?

Even if he does, a few mistakes and he’ll be hounded by the fans for not caring and for wanting out. The trust is pretty much gone. Even teammates will look at him differently now.

I feel for the Toffees, I really do, but I cannot help but think they’ll now be better off just getting rid of the international defender and banking that vast transfer fee.

Reports to suggest that Chelsea are set to make a fourth and final offer of £40m for the centre-back. I think that is the price tag that should see Everton bending to the players will and selling the twenty-one year old.

Surely Toffees boss Roberto Martinez will have already earmarked possible replacements with the Merseyside on the verge of bringing in Argentine central defender Ramiro Funes Mori from River Plate. You’d imagine that another centre-back with European experience or at least a defender with Premier League pedigree will also be brought in.

The money from the Stones deal would also help the Spaniard find that new exciting number ten, that he seems desperate to sign this summer!

Let’s face it, getting £40m for a defender is still huge for any club. John Stones is good but we really don’t know if he’s worth that.

So at the end of the day, Everton should do business with Chelsea and get rid of a player who clearly now wants to leave. Then spend that cash and improve the whole squad!

These days the football players have most of the power and when their heart is set on going, teams are better off getting as much money for them as possible and saying ‘Ta-ra’.

 

Celtic Only Have Themselves To Blame… Plus They Owe Scottish Football An Apology

Celtic Park

A Champions League tie is won or lost over 120 minutes, it shouldn’t depend on a refereeing decision.

Celtic lost out to Swedish champions Malmo FF, a result which again saw Ronny Deila and his men fall at the final hurdle and not reach the lucrative group stages of the Champions League.

To be honest over the two legs, the Hoops didn’t deserve to go through.

They were nervy at back, lost sloppy goals and lacked any urgency going forward when it mattered the most.

The Scottish champs were two goals up in the first leg, after just ten minutes. That should have been a huge confidence booster. The Hoops should have just controlled the ball from then on in and taken a healthy lead to Sweden.

But no, instead they defended woefully and allowed Malmo back into the tie.

Striker Leigh Griffiths then managed to regain his sides two goal lead. But again Celtic couldn’t see it out, at the death of the game former Celt Jo Inge Berget curled in Malmo’s second.

That second away goal was a huge wake up call for the Glasgow side but they didn’t learn their lesson as they again defended poorly and it ultimately cost them their place in Europe’s most elite club competition.

Now certain parts of the media and some within Celtic’s support will point to their sides goal in the second leg that was wrongfully chopped off. I still have no idea how the ref could get that decision so wrong, the Malmo player clearly handled the ball not Celtic’s Charlie Mulgrew.

Of course that decision causes frustration but to be honest it didn’t cost Celtic their place in the Champions League. Their players became lost on the football field and fell apart. That’s what cost them dear!

Also why aren’t we hearing the same people shout about Leigh Griffiths actions in the first half. He clearly stuck his knee into the balls of an opponent. That loss of discipline should have seen the Scottish striker being sent off. Yet we hear very little about that incident.

Look Celtic have been coming up with excuses even before this exit.

Right at the start of the campaign they were moaning about playing too early in the competition. I feel for them as the Scottish coefficient is so low, they get little help from others when it comes to European football.

But the fact remains that in the past two seasons, the Scottish champions have failed to qualify for the group stages. Moan about the excessive qualifying if you actually qualify because when you fail the argument becomes a bit redundant.

Assistant manager John Collins also claimed that other Scottish teams didn’t help his side with their build up for big European ties:

“We conceded too many goals in Europe last year. If you become open and detached against good players and teams you get punished.”

“It’s something that doesn’t happen in Scotland. No disrespect to teams here but they’re not clever enough players or quick enough thinkers to punish us.”

Quite ironic that the bulk of Ronny Deila’s signings at Celtic Park have been purchased from the Scottish leagues.

Also seems like Celtic haven’t learnt there lessons from last season.

Plus the one thing Scottish football should do is allow Celtic to practice their defending from set-pieces. Unfortunately the Bhoy’s weren’t smart enough to snuff out danger or quick enough to pick up opposing players in the Celtic penalty area!

For that, Celtic and in particular John Collins owe Scottish football an apology. Although that said, the Scottish giants are continuously let down by other Scottish sides who struggle to get anywhere near a proper round in a European competition.

Celtic’s Chief Executive Peter Lawwell also has questions that need to be answered. Why on earth does he make the same old mistakes? Celtic clearly needed more new recruits, especially ones with European pedigree. Yet Lawwell always sits on his hands and prays for Champions League qualification before spending a decent amount of cash. He will now watch on as yet another prize asset (Virgil van Dijk) will leave for the English Premier League this month.

So before Celtic look to blame everyone else, they simply need to look at themselves and realise they are to blame.

On the field and on the touchline they were extremely naive. When the game called for calm heads, the Glasgow side lost the plot. Poor defending and a failure to close out the first leg cost them. Plus they lacked a forward who had experience at the highest level of the game.

Hopefully they can again go far in the Europa League, learn from these harsh lessons and come back stronger next summer!

Arsenal’s Petr Cech Shows Class Is Permanent

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You could have forgiven a few Arsenal fans who might have thought that Jose Mourinho had cursed goalkeeper Petr Cech, after Chelsea sold him to Arsenal for £10m this summer.

The international goalie’s Premier League debut for the Gunners couldn’t have gone much worse. He was probably at fault for both goals as West Ham United came to the Emirates and recorded a 2-0 victory over Arsenal on the opening day of the season.

That wasn’t part of Arsene Wenger’s script when he signed the usually reliable number one!

An average Arsenal performance in a 2-1 away win over Crystal Palace followed.

But last night, we all saw first hand why Wenger was so keen to bring in Cech.

I still for the life of me cannot understand how the league fixture between Arsenal and Liverpool finished goalless last night. Each side had dodgy halves and shaky defences. Both sides created decent chances and both made some woeful passes. Yet neither side could make a breakthrough.

The Gunners had Cech to thank for their cleansheet.

Veteran rock Petr had a new defensive partnering of Gabriel Paulista and Calum Chambers playing in front of him.

In the first half the new centre-back pairing struggled to cope as Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino found plenty of space in and around them. Then there was big target-man Christian Benteke, who would bully past them at every opportunity.

A lack of communication at the back, along with nerves and what looked like a distinct absence of match sharpness made it seem at times as if it was Cech against the Liverpool forward line during much of the first half.

That’s a bit of a disservice to Francis Coquelin, the midfield general tried his upmost to disrupt Liverpool’s rhythm and win the ball back when he could.

But it was still thirty-three year old Cech that was Arsenal’s top player and the games man of the match.

He seemed to make save after save in the first half of the match.

The Czech Republic international produced a world class stop to prevent Benteke from giving Liverpool the lead.

Firmino put in a fast, low cross and it found its way to his Belgian striker. With the goal gapping Benteke steered the ball low towards goal at a decent pace. But Cech was on his toes and dived low to his left and clawed the ball beyond the post. Much was made of Benteke’s finish, with many suggesting he should have smashed it but in that situation with the ball coming to you at that speed you’re better keeping it low and on target.

The fact is Cech deserves your praise rather than everyone criticising the forward. Most keepers would have been left flat-footed or would’ve given up on the ball after it had reached the strikers foot, but Cech kept his nerve and was rewarded.

Then moment later, Petr was at it again. This time, Coutinho found some space in the area and curled a superb effort towards goal. Only to see Cech get the slightest of touches that saw the ball cannon off the post and away goal! It was another magical save.

Those were the match saving saves. But the keeper managed to get his body behind every other Liverpool shot and looked unbeatable. he was once again the reliable goalkeeper, that we’ve seen over the past decade.

His first-half showing seemed to galvanise those in front of him as they became more assured of themselves in the second period.. Although they couldn’t really have struggled anymore to be honest.

The keeper himself told Sky Sports after the game:

“When you start with a new club and everything goes wrong, you need to bounce back and this is what I tried to do.”

“Today was one those games where I was in the right place at the right times and helped the team overcome a difficult moment in the first half.”

The failure to convert chances and contain the opposition in the first half again highlighted a need for Wenger to spend more this transfer window. Another top-class striker has to be found for when Oliver Giroud has an off night. Plus a strong midfielder to sit in alongside Coquelin could be a good move for the bigger encounters this season.

But last night did prove that Arsene Wenger was right to bring in Petr Cech.

Unfortunately more needs to be done to improve this Gunners squad if they are truly going to be candidates for the Premier League title. Czech was brought in to change draws into victories but alas without a stronger starting eleven all he can do is stop draws becoming defeats!

Rangers Have Found A Real Gem In James Tavernier

Ibrox Front

It’s not often that a full-back comes into a new club and makes the sort impact that James Tavernier has made at Rangers!

The young Englishman has quite literally hit the ground running at Ibrox and at times has looked sensational and unplayable.

His performances from the right-back spot have had Gers supporters on their feet and cheering from the stands.

James has a style that seems to compare well with two recent former Rangers players, who operated in the same position.

Tavernier’s keen eye for a goal is reminiscent of Steven Whittaker. During his Gers career, Whittaker would score an impressive twenty-eight times in 209 club appearances. While the new signing from Wigan Athletic has already managed to bag four goals in six games.

The twenty-three year old’s attacking, marauding runs forward seem to take you back to 2008, when Alan Hutton’s form at right-back won him a £9m move to the English Premier League. Tavernier’s bursts forward keep the opposition on the back foot and creates plenty for his teammates too, just like Hutton’s.

As I’ve already mentioned James and his energetic performances have been well appreciated by the Gers support.

Another unexpected quality that the full-back has given his new club is that he seems to be a wizard at scoring from a freekick. Rangers fans love a set-piece expert, Jorg Albertz is still an Ibrox hero and his thunderbolt freekicks are stuff of legend in Govan,

In yesterday’s big Scottish Championship clash between Rangers and Hibs, the Glasgow side managed to maintain their 100% win record for this season due to a superb freekick from their new right-back. From a difficult angle on the lefthand side of Hibernian’s penalty area, Tavernier struck the ball sweetly and curled it sublimely into the top corner at the far post.

That cracking strike was the full-back’s second goal from a free-kick so far this term.

The player also seems decent at the defensive side of his game but at the moment he probably hasn’t been tested enough at the back to completely judge him on that front.

Mark Warburton’s system at Rangers seems to delight the fans and gets the best out of his full-backs, as both Tavernier and Lee Wallace have excelled so far this term. They offer the side plenty of pace and willingness from the flanks.

When James signed for the Ibrox club he stated his intent when he told the clubs website:

“It’s a massive club and it was an easy decision for me,”  

“The recognition you can get playing for Ranges is huge.”

“I like to get on the ball as much as I can, get forward and create goals.”

You can see that the player has joined with a hunger to settle in at a club and do well. He’s had quite a few different homes in his career (mainly loans) and now looks to have found his place at Ibrox.

He came to Rangers as a bit of an unknown but he has quickly made a name for himself and at the moment looks to be the best summer buy for the Scottish Championship side.